Ocean Kayaking and Seeing Cougars
ALL ABOUT COUGARS
The cougar is Canada’s largest, most graceful and highly feared cat. It is a “top-of-the-food-chain” predator with impeccable hunting skills that is common through its native British Columbia. However, humans rarely see one. Rarely seen not because of a small population but because this is a highly secretive animal that tends to stay away from humans.
Cougars are big predatory animals with reddish-brown fur and a white belly. Its long tail helps it maintain balance and has a black tip on the end. A cougar has a small head and small ears and large paws. The average cougar male weighs 125 lbs. while the average female is closer to 100 lbs. Female cougars will give birth to two or three cats every couple of years. The young are usually dependent on their mother for up to 20 months, or until the next litter is born.
There are three subspecies of cougar of varying coloration and size. Interior cougars are very light, coastal cougars are darker, and Vancouver Island cougars, who we often share our space with, are a smaller, red subspecies. The majority of Vancouver Island cougars, who we rarely spot although they are there, live on the northern half of the island.
These cougars are apex predators, hunting by sight and sound. They take prey of varying sizes: from small mammals to moose. An attacking cougar almost always “goes for the jugular.” This means breaking a small mammals neck or suffocating a larger animals by clamping its jaws over their trachea. Cougars are extremely fast and quiet hunters making the majority of their attacks successful.
The cougar’s excellent predatory capabilities give birth to an abundance of irrational fears about camping in cougar country. First of all, it is important to remember that seeing cougars is rare and while the animals British Columbia population is plentiful, most residents of the province will go their entire life without seeing one. Unless of course, there is a resident population at the city zoo.
Conflicts between humans and cougars are highly unlikely. In the past 100 years, cougars have killed only 5 people. This amount is far less than the number of people killed by lightning strike, the family dog or bee sting. Over 20 attacks have occurred during that same time period and while this number is incredibly small considering the power of the animal, it is still best to take precautions in cougar country.
The first thing you can do to keep cougars, and most big animals away from your campsite is listen to the radio. Noise generally keeps these introverted cats away, so keep a radio playing constantly and enjoy some tunes while you’re at it. Second, don’t feed innocent looking wildlife such as deer or raccoons. By doing this, you are feeding the cougars natural prey and can potentially draw the cougar towards your campsite. It is best to keep all wild animals away. Third, if you are camping with your dog or pet, feed it outside and keep it in before dawn and after dusk. Fourth, when hiking, stay in groups and make noise. Fifth, keep your eyes out for cougar tracks or warning signs, such as animals the cougar may have previously fed on. And lastly, in the rare case that you come across a cougar kitten, do not pick it up as cute as it may be…. Leave the area, as females are highly defensive of their young.
In the unlikely situation that you confront a cougar, follow these guidelines to assure the confrontation won’t be threatening for you or the animal. First, do not approach a cougar. Although a cougar will most likely retreat in this case, you have to credit that this is a wild dangerous and wild animal that can behave unpredictably. If you confront a cougar, do not back it into a corner where it may feel threatened. Always leave an open area where the cougar can see a potential escape. No matter what you do in a confrontation, stay calm. If you have a child, pick the child up as a child’s nervous and unpredictable movements could provoke a cougar. Talk to the cougar in a confident voice and back away slowly. Do not run or turn your back on a cougar. Sudden movements can trigger instinctive attacks. Do not crouch or hide, instead, make yourself appear bigger that you actually are. Pick up sticks and stretch your arms high so your size can potentially scare the cougar. If a cougar seems aggressive, arm yourself with a large stick, throw rocks and speak loudly to them. You want to make yourself look like a predator, not prey. In the circumstance that a cougar attacks, always fight back. People with survival stories of cougar attacks speak of fighting back.
Remember that instances of these confrontations are rare. Cougars are an essential part of the ecosystem and most sightings are rewarding, non-threatening occurrences. Keeping yourself and your children aware of these safety guidelines can allow you to camp in Cougar country with confidence.